Ralph Nader Date of birth: February 27, 1934
Making Government and Business Accountable
Ralph Nader is American's most renowned and effective crusader for the rights of consumers and the general public, a role that has repeatedly brought him into conflict with both business and government.
Ralph Nader was born in Winsted, Connecticut to Nathra and Rose Nader, Lebanese immigrants who operated a restaurant and bakery. Nader's dream of becoming a "people's lawyer" was instilled in him in adolescence by his parents, who in noisy free-for-alls, conducted family seminars on the duties of citizenship in a democracy. Mark Green, a former Nader associate, said that "When (the Naders) sat around the table growing up it was like the Kennedys. Except that the subject was not power but justice."
Following his graduation in 1951 from Gilbert School, Nader entered the Woodrow Wilson School of International Affairs at Princeton University. Graduating magna cum laude in 1955, with a major in government and economics, Nader enrolled in Harvard Law School. He became an editor of the Harvard Law Review, and after graduating with honors, set up a small legal practice and traveled widely.
The young attorney became distressed by the indifference of American corporations to the global consequences of their actions, and he began to speak out against the abuse of corporate power. He first made headlines in 1965 with his book, Unsafe at Any Speed, which took the auto industry to task for producing unsafe vehicles. Nader became an American folk hero when executives of General Motors hired private detectives to harass him and then publicly apologized before a nationally televised Senate committee hearing.
The consumer advocate went on to create an organization of energetic young lawyers and researchers (often called "Nader's Raiders") who produced systematic exposés of industrial hazards, pollution, unsafe products, and governmental neglect of consumer safety laws. Nader is widely recognized as the founder of the consumers' rights movement. He played a key role in the creation of the Environmental Protection Agency, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, the Freedom of Information Act and the Consumer Product Safety Commission. He has continued to work for consumer safety and for the reform of the political system through his group Public Citizen.
For many years, Ralph Nader has harshly criticized the two major political parties for preserving a campaign finance system that makes them both dependent on wealthy contributors. In 1996 he appeared on the ballot in some states as the Presidential candidate of the Green Party, but ran a largely symbolic campaign, making only a handful of public appearances to promote his candidacy. He made a more substantial effort in 2000, running nationwide as the candidate of the Green Party. He won nearly three million votes nationwide, close to three percent of the votes cast. After the closest presidential election in American history, many Democrats blamed Nader for their loss of the presidency. They speculated that had Nader not entered the race, they would have won enough of Nader's voters in either one of two states to shift the balance of electoral victory in their favor. Despite opposition from many of his previous supporters, Ralph Nader determined to run for president a third time in 2004, as in independent candidate. He lives and maintains his offices in Washington, DC.
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from the Academy of Achievement.